Close Encounters of the Poetic Kind


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Do poets believe in extraterrestrials?  Do you think they have tried to contact us?

— Mike, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Unless the idea of life on other planets violates any theological beliefs, I think most poets living today believe the universe is too immense for them to conclude that humans are alone. Former poet laureate Stanly Kunitz wrote “The Abduction” which ends:

That was a long time ago,

almost another age, but even now,

when I hold you in my arms,

I wonder where you are.

Sometimes I wake to hear

the engines of the night thrumming

outside the east bay window

on the lawn spreading to the rose garden.

You lie beside me in elegant repose,

a hint of transport hovering on your lips,

indifferent to the harsh green flares

that swivel through the room,

searchlights controlled by unseen hands.

Out there is a childhood country,

bleached faces peering in

with coals for eyes.

Our lives are spinning out

from world to world;

the shapes of things

are shifting in the wind.

What do we know

beyond the rapture and the dread?

Seriously, what do we know?  Some poets themselves are probably aliens. Isn’t there some conspiracy theory that Shakespeare was actually an extraterrestrial?  There should be — that guy was way too productive. Come to think of it, all the poets I’ve ever studied with had very peculiar mannerisms…precisely like those I’d expect of an extraterrestrial. And haven’t you ever been to a poetry reading where the poet only took a sip of water from behind the podium or moved his or her hands in such a way that made you think they were communicating with the mother ship? I remember how after one reading poet Mary Oliver suspiciously avoided the complimentary snacks, including the carrot cake (which was always delicious). I think she really wanted a bite of that carrot cake. If other people came up to talk with her and they had a piece of carrot cake, she said, “That looks like good carrot cake.” But the thing is, she never got a piece of carrot cake herself because she didn’t want to frighten anyone with her protracting tube that emerged during feeding time.  Or maybe she really wasn’t hungry because she had eaten a well balanced and sustaining extraterrestrial lunch. I don’t know. In general, her behavior was very suspicious.

That concludes it: Poets are aliens and they try to contact us with their poems. As to be expected, though, there are the skeptics, the nonbelievers, who insist that a poem is nothing more than typescript on a page and try to take away all our fun. • 27 July 2009